Feature Spotlight: activity feed visibility

The profile's Activity Feed lets you keep a complete and accurate record of your history and correspondence with anyone in the system—and what's more, you always know where to find it.

Everything you post to the Activity Feed has visibility options. Say you upload a note with a file that pertains to a prospect's eligibility for a scholarship—by checking off user roles, you can set that item to be visible to everyone at your school who needs to see it.

Emails have the same visibility settings—when composing an email, you can check the roles to which you wish to make the email visible once it hits the Activity Feed:

The default visibility is set to Private. But if in the course of your workday you find yourself changing the visibility settings for every note and email (or forgetting to change them and "hiding" information from your co-workers!), there's a fix for that. Go to your personal Populi settings page by clicking Settings in the upper right of the screen:

Scroll down to Default activity feed visibility and check off the roles you normally want to see your items:

Once you save, your selections will be your new default, whether you're posting items to an Activity Feed or sending an email (both from Populi and from another client to your Email Dropbox)—giving you one less thing to think about in the course of your workday.

We're dropping the price on file storage

On August 1st, we're dropping the price for additional file storage* to just $1 per GB per month.

Additionally, we're no longer going to charge for storing your encoded media—so you'll get even more bang for that buck. But the service itself will remain the same: simple storage, backup, encoding, and streaming of your media files, together with tools that let your students watch videos and listen to audio right in Populi from almost any device.

We built Populi file storage so our customers would have a simple, inexpensive way to stream audio and video through their Populi courses. The infrastructure, know-how, and expense required to do this is out of reach for most small colleges. You'd need (at minimum)...

  • Servers to store your files
  • More servers to back them up
  • Encoding into multiple formats so different devices can play them
  • A content delivery network to optimize streaming wherever your students might be
  • An easy way to incorporate the media where your students can find it

All that, and the time and expertise to make those things work together. Most schools just don't have the resources to pour into building that themselves. So we conceived of file storage as a way to let schools offload that challenge onto us and designed it accordingly—all anyone needs to do is upload a file and start using it. That's it.

When we released file storage last year, we priced it at $2.50 per GB, putting this service within the price range of many of our customers for the first time ever. We based our price on estimated costs, anticipated usage, and a little sandbagging to ensure it wouldn't send our families to the bread lines. With a year of hard data and customer feedback to go on (and some lower costs from our vendors), we were happy to discover that we could lower the price and make the service even more accessible to our schools.

But it's not just a price drop—that dollar now gets you "more" storage than you were getting before. To explain: the encoding process creates multiple copies of your media file to make sure any device can play it back. We were counting those additional copies against your file storage total. So, you might upload a 300 MB video lecture and discover that the one file had eaten up 1GB worth of file storage! Our newly-rejiggered calculations now exclude the encoded copies from your storage total. If you've uploaded a lot of video, the next time you look at your file storage total in the Account section of Populi, you'll likely see that you're using "less"—in some cases, a lot less—than you were before.

The net effect: where $2.50 used to cover, say, one hour-long video, now $1 lets you store and stream three hour-long videos**.

You'll see the new pricing reflected on your August 1st invoice, and the new storage calculation on your September 1st invoice.

* Additional file storage is anything over the limit included in your pricing plan.

** Assuming that each video weighs in at around 300 MB...

Feature Spotlight: Billing

Consisting of three components—Billing, Accounting, and Financial Aid—Populi Financial gives you a simple, uncluttered way to manage your school's receivables. In Billing, you set up tuition and fees and use the real-time reporting tools to stay on top of charges and payments; Billing is supplemented by student profiles, where the most of the action happens.

As part of a complete accounts receivable package, Billing ties in with financial aid and accounting, which lets you connect your A/R to your overall accounting package.

First you set it up

You start in Settings, where you create Tuition Schedules, Fees, and Payment Plans. Tuition Schedules can have custom brackets, refund policies, and be attached to particular academic programs. Fees can cover almost any situation; set up Fee Rules to automate charges when students trigger them (auditing a course, for example). Room and Meal Plans handle—you guessed it!—special charges for dorm rooms and cafeteria grub. And Payment Plans give you structures to allow your students to pay their invoices over time, complete with custom payment schedules, additional plan costs, and late fees.

These settings don't just establish dollar amounts and schedules—they set up automated billing activities that will save you a ton of time. For example, you can set up a Lab Fee to trigger every time a student enrolls in a lab science course—sparing you the work of tracking all those students down and charging them manually.

Get your students set up and start charging and taking payments

The financial tab on student profiles is the center of a lot of the action in Billing. You can invoice charges, record and apply payments, and get students set up with tuition schedules and other plans. And, of course, you can find or easily link to anything you need to know about a student's account—whether you're double-checking a couple of outstanding invoices or hunting down a voided payment from two terms ago.

Then you charge your students

As students begin enrolling in courses, getting charged for tuition and fees, and making payments, you'll have two perspectives on what students owe and what they've paid: Current and By Term.

Current captures anything outstanding—pending charges, student balances, unpaid invoices, and unapplied payments and credits. These are the items that require you to take some kind of action—invoicing charges, applying credits, zeroing out balances, and so forth.

By Term presents you with summary reports of a particular Academic Term's charges and billing activity. Each tab lets you export the information or email the students in view with a single click.

See the totals

Reporting gives you an overall view of things invoiced (charges and credits) and things paid (paid to you or refunded by you) over any date range you need. A few clicks will show you how much you've invoiced and how much you've taken in over any time period.

Embed documents in Populi with Scribd

We've been working on a lot of things lately—some big, some little—one of which is a just-now-released integration with Scribd. Scribd is a web-based service that lets you upload documents, slideshows, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. into an easily-embeddable and shareable format. If you get a Scribd account (they're free!), you can upload files there and share them in Populi just by pasting the URL in a News item, Course Dashboard, Lesson, or Discussion.

Correct horse battery staple

Here's a fine comic from xkcd that made the rounds a few months ago. We confess to being guilty as charged as to encouraging users to concoct passwords like Tr0ub4dor&3—while then telling everyone not to post it on a sticky note on your monitor. Passwords like correct horse battery staple are certainly much simpler to remember. Of course, we do require an uppercase letter and a number somewhere in your password, but that should be easy enough to work into a more memorable password.

Here's a much more technical article going into the why's and what's and how's of such passwords from the Dropbox tech blog.

Aaaand, if you're so inclined, log in to Populi, go to your profile's Info tab, click the gear, and select Reset Password...

A grab-bag release

The Populi team put in a late night last night pushing out a grab-bag of features that'll smooth out some common workflows and make all kinds of data simpler to get at. This post also includes some features that we trickled out over the past few weeks.


We moved Facilities from the Account bar to its own tab. Accessible to anyone with the Staff role, Facilities contains Locations and Resources. We also moved the Room Vacancies report from Billing to Locations.

Additionally—in fulfillment of a rather popular feature request—we made it a lot easier to find out who's in what dorm room. Our previous solution wasn't really a solution... if you wanted to know, you'd have to guess or stumble upon it while looking at student profiles. Now, whenever you're looking at a Room page, you'll see the current occupants listed. When looking at a Building page, you can select a date and then export a list of who is/was in that building's rooms as of that date. The export looks for the Academic Terms in session as of the date and then finds who's listed in which room for that Term. This is handy for looking up past occupants and checking who's situated where for upcoming terms.


Financial has a new report and an upgrade to an existing feature...

The Unapplied Payments/Credits report shows, as its name indicates, all of your unapplied payments and credits along with all the relevant details. We've had a few requests for this, and we're really happy to get this one out the door to y'all.

The History tab in Student > Financial now includes voided transactions. What's more, there's also an Export button which lets you create a spreadsheet of the information in the tab.


The new Course units by student setting in Academics lets faculty manually adjust the credits/hours for individual students on the course roster. This is really handy for non-traditional programs that award differing numbers of earned units to students in the same course—previously, you would have to create a separate course section for each student and change the units at the course level.

In Data Slicer, you can now see what Degree a Specialization falls under whenever you include the Specialization field in a query or report.

Here and there

We rolled out "Likes"—now, if you see something you like on someone's Profile or Course Bulletin Board, Populi News, or course discussions, you can click the heart to let everyone know that you dig it.

In Bookstore, you can now sell invisible items in Point of Sale. Effectively, this allows you to add things like fees, deposits, etc. as "items" in your Bookstore; being invisible, regular online shoppers won't be able to find them—but you can still sell them to students at your cash register.

We exposed more Admissions data via the API.

As is typical of our releases, we've also been fixing bugs, tweaking the interface, and optimizing scripts and servers on the back-end.